You might feel nervous before a mammogram – in fact, many women do. But knowing what to expect can help soothe your nerves and help the process go as smoothly as possible.
Below, we share tips to help you prepare for your mammogram and recommendations to help make the experience more comfortable.
What to do before your mammogram
Know the best time to schedule a mammogram
While you can schedule your mammogram at any time, you may want to plan for a day when your breasts are less likely to be tender. If you haven’t gone through menopause, that’s usually during the week after your menstrual period. Your breasts are most likely to be tender the week before and the week during your period.
When should you get your first mammogram?
If you’re around 40 years old, it’s likely your doctor has started talking to you about the timing of your first screening mammogram. If you’re younger and have risk factors for breast cancer, talk to your doctor about your concerns. They may recommend a risk assessment to see if you should start getting mammograms sooner.
Understand your insurance coverage
Breast cancer screening mammograms are usually 100% covered by insurance. But if you don’t have coverage, one of the things you should know about mammograms is that you may be eligible for a no- or low-cost screening under the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP).
Diagnostic mammograms are billed differently, and you’ll likely have out-of-pocket costs. Check with your insurance company to learn more. If you have HealthPartners insurance, call 1-844-997-2678 (COST) for personalized cost information and estimates for health care services.
Consider taking pain medicine
You’re not alone if you wonder how a mammogram will feel. “Do mammograms hurt?” is actually one of the most common mammogram questions.
Most people don’t find mammograms to be painful. But if you’re concerned or if your breasts feel tender before your appointment, it’s fine to take an over-the-counter pain medicine such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil). Taking the medicine about an hour before your mammogram should help with potential discomfort during the test.
Keep your chest and arms free of beauty products
A mammogram uses X-rays to see the inside of your breast. Unfortunately, some beauty products can show up on the mammogram images, leading to inaccurate readings. It’s best to not apply beauty products on your arms or breasts prior to your mammogram, but most clinics will provide wipes if you forget. Here are answers to questions about using specific types of products:
Can I use deodorant before a mammogram?
No. Metallic particles in deodorants may be visible on your mammogram and cause confusion.
Can I wear makeup to a mammogram?
Yes, but apply cosmetics only to your face. Don’t put anything below your jawline because it’s possible that the particles in powders and other makeup could show up on your mammogram. So, hold off on using bronzers on your neck or chest until after your test.
Can I use soap before a mammogram?
Yes, it’s fine to shower with soap or bodywash before your mammogram. Just don’t apply lotions, creams or powders until after your test.
Eat and drink as usual
People often ask if you can eat before a mammogram. The answer is yes. Mammograms aren’t fasting tests. So, eating and drinking before your appointment won’t affect test results.
During your mammogram, you only need to undress from the waist up – you can wear your pants, skirt or shorts underneath the provided gown. So you might be more comfortable if you wear a separate top and bottom. But if you wear a one-piece outfit, it’s okay because you’ll still be covered by the gown.
Can you wear jewelry during a mammogram?
Most jewelry, including necklaces are okay to wear during a mammogram. If necessary, the technologist will move any pendants away from your chest when positioning you for the pictures.
What to expect during a mammogram
It doesn’t take very long to get a mammogram. And you can expect that your mammogram technologist will make the process as comfortable as possible.
What you’ll feel and experience during a mammogram
During the test, you’ll stand in front of a mammogram machine. The technologist will position your breast on the machine, which will take pictures of the inside of your breast.
Compression (flattening) of the breast tissue is needed to get the highest quality image. Compression is not dangerous to your breast, and any discomfort should be mild and temporary.
Differences in types of mammograms won’t change your experience much
Whether you’re having a screening mammogram or a diagnostic mammogram, you can expect the experiences to be very similar. The same goes for whether your mammogram is done in 2D or 3D.
The main difference between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram is when they happen. Screening mammograms are a preventive screening that happens when you don’t have symptoms. A diagnostic mammogram is used as a follow-up screening if you have breast changes or unusual symptoms.
As far as what you’ll experience during a 2D or 3D mammogram, you may just notice that it takes a few seconds longer to capture pictures during a 3D mammogram.
How long does a mammogram take?
Getting a mammogram usually only takes about 20 minutes.
What to expect after a mammogram
After the technologist finishes taking the images, it’s time to get dressed. In most cases, you’ll be able to leave right away and get back to your day.
How your breasts may feel after a mammogram
Most people don’t experience soreness after a mammogram. But if you do, use a pain reliever like aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen. It can also help to swap out your underwire bra for a padded sports bra until your breasts feel better.
How long it takes to get mammogram results
Following your mammogram, your images will be looked at by a doctor who specializes in evaluating X-rays (radiologist). With screening mammograms you’ll usually get the results within a few days of your test. If you had a diagnostic mammogram, you’ll often get your results before you leave your appointment.
Mammogram callback reasons
You may get called back after a diagnostic mammogram so the radiologist can take more images to get a better look.
There are many reasons why your doctor may want more images. Sometimes, a mammogram may show an abnormal finding that is not cancer. These results are called false positives and may lead to having more tests and procedures.
But keep in mind that this does not automatically mean you have breast cancer. You won’t know until a final diagnosis.
Negative mammogram result
If your doctor reports no signs of cancer, there are no follow-up actions except continuing to get future screening mammograms.
We look forward to seeing you
Your comfort and peace of mind are priority number one for our breast health experts at HealthPartners. We’ll make sure that your first mammogram and every mammogram after that is the best possible experience for you.
It may be possible for you to schedule your mammogram at your normal clinical location on the same day as a primary care appointment. We offer mammograms at more than 20 locations across the Twin Cities and in western Wisconsin. We also have a Mammo a-go-go mobile mammography unit, which travels to many clinic locations throughout the Twin Cities.
If you haven’t made your appointment for your mammogram, don’t delay. Mammograms save lives by finding cancer in its earliest stages when it’s most treatable.